August 12, 2011

You Said "Live"

Bridge over the Marne at Creteil

You said live out loud, and die you said lightly,
and over and over again you said be.

But before the first death came murder.
A fracture broke across the rings you'd ripened.
A screaming shattered the voices

that had just come together to speak you,
to make of you a bridge
over the chasm of everything.

And what they have stammered ever since
are fragments
of your ancient name.

The Book of Hours I, 9


  1. Can anyone explain this passage to me?

  2. Hello, Anonymous. It's a difficult passage, I grant you. I don't pretend to understand it myself.

    As for the third line, I believe this is talking about Cain killing his brother Abel. No one had died on earth yet, according to the passage in Genesis.

    If Rilke is talking to God, perhaps he is talking to the Word, Jesus, who always was and always will be, in spirit. He was bridge between God and man. And there, at the beginning of creation, someone had fractured life, and love, by killing another human being, his own brother.

    Ever since, we have only seen as in a glass darkly, glimpses of God-Love-Light.

    That's my take.

    What do you think?

  3. I think your interpretation makes a lot of sense. I'm not too familiar with the Book of Hours, but it seems that Rilke is also saying that poetry itself is "fragments of your ancient name."

  4. I think Ruth is right about Cain and Abel. To get the full meaning, you kind of have to read the section that precedes this.

    Ich lese es heraus aus deinem Wort,
    aus der Geschichte der Gebaerden,
    mit welchen deine Haende um das Werden
    sich ruendeten, begrenzend, warm und weise.

    which very roughly translated means:

    I read it in your Word,
    from the story of the gestures
    with which your hands curved themselves
    around the Becoming with warmth and wisdom

    So, Rilke's very unorthodox, very fallible God created a beautiful world, affirmed life, and his creation was quickly corrupted, not by death, but by murder. This entry of evil into paradise forever changed our relationship and our understanding of God.


"Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night."

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Go ahead, bloom recklessly!